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Trump on "direct" US talks with North Korea

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President Trump on Tuesday said the U.S. has had high-level conversations with North Korea.

There was some confusion on Tuesday night when Mr. Trump took questions from reporters as to exactly who from the U.S. had spoken with North Korea, but ultimately White House press secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement clarifying that the “president said the administration has had talks at the highest levels and added that they were not with him directly.”

Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Trump said the U.S. has begun talking with North Korea “directly,” ahead of an intended U.S.-North Korea summit. Mr. Trump made the comments in a meeting with Abe at Mar-a-Lago.

“We’ve also started talking to North Korea directly. We have had direct talks at very high levels, extremely high levels, with North Korea,” Mr. Trump said. “I really believe there is a lot of good will, good things are happening — we’ll see what happens.”

The CIA had already led efforts to establish a back channel to communicate with North Korea, as CBS News’ Margaret Brennan has reported, and CBS News’ Kylie Atwood reported the State Department was in direct communication earlier this month. No location or time has been chosen yet for a summit between the U.S. and North Korea, but Mr. Trump said it will happen “probably in early June” or earlier, and said the U.S. is considering “five locations.” He did not say what those locations are, although asked whether any of the locations are in the U.S., Mr. Trump said, “no.” CBS News’ Major Garrett, who has spoken with Trump administration officials, said that number appears to be lower.

“I look forward to meeting with Kim Jong Un,” said Mr. Trump, adding that North Korea respects the U.S. — and “we are respectful of them.”

The Trump-Abe meeting also comes ahead of an anticipated meeting between North Korea and South Korea, as the Koreas are reportedly set to declare an official end to their war. Mr. Trump said the Koreas have his “blessing” to discuss an end to war. 

“North Korea is coming along,” Mr. Trump said. “South Korea is meeting and has plans to meet to see if they can end the war and they have my blessing on that. They’ve been very generous … without us and without me in particular, I guess, they wouldn’t be discussing anything and the Olympics would have been a failure.”

Seated beside Mr. Trump, Abe said he commended the president’s “courage” in deciding to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Abe attributed much of North Korea’s seeming shift in attitude to Mr. Trump’s determination.

“I hope to thoroughly discuss North Korea and other issues of mutual interest between Japan and the U.S.,” Abe said at a meeting of representatives from his ruling coalition and the government earlier this month.

Mr. Trump insisted many foreign leaders have “requested” to meet at Mar-a-Lago, instead of Washington.

“Many of the world’s great leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago,” the president said. “Now, indeed, it is the southern White House,” Mr. Trump said. 

Mr. Trump said he and the Japanese leader will golf tomorrow, if possible.

 “We’re going to sneak out tomorrow and play a round of golf if possible,” said Mr. Trump, who has praised Japan’s skilled golfers. 

The White House said Mr. Trump and Abe have a few key objectives, generally speaking to “reaffirm the United States-Japan alliance as a cornerstone of peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.” Mr. Trump said the two nations have “never been closer” than they are now.

“The two leaders will discuss the international campaign to maintain maximum pressure on North Korea in advance of President Trump’s planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. President Trump and Prime Minister Abe will explore ways to expand fair and reciprocal trade and investment ties between the United States and Japan, two of the world’s wealthiest and most innovative economies,” the White House added. 

Abe last visited Mr. Trump’s resort in February 2017, soon after the president took office. Mr. Trump has met with Abe more than any other foreign leader. 

— CBS News’ Kathryn Watson contributed to this report. 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this report said that Mr. Trump said he had spoken directly with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The pool of reporters traveling with Mr. Trump had shouted questions at him Tuesday evening — including whether he has been speaking directly to Kim. Mr. Trump turned around and responded, “Yes.” But it was not completely clear which question he was answering. The White House soon clarified that the U.S. has had talks “at the highest levels” with North Korea, but those talks have been with the administration, and not with Mr. Trump directly.

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